Pharyngula

Scott Adams reads Newsweek. Uh-oh.

If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, the insignificant, minute information Adams has on evolution must be exceedingly risky—it’s like the atom bomb of ignorance. In this case, it’s not entirely his fault, though. He read the recent Newsweek cover story on evolution, which fed his biases and readily led him smack into the epicenter of his own blind spots, and kerblooiee, he exploded.

This is a case where the flaws in a popular science article neatly synergize with an evolution-denialist’s misconceptions to produce a perfect storm of stupidity.

I’m not really impressed with the Newsweek article. It gives a nice overview of some current productive lines of research, but it’s too infatuated with ‘revolution disease’. It’s not enough that the new evidence is expanding our knowledge and supporting evolutionary theory—it all has to have the extra ingredient of fake drama added. The story is full of “we used to think this, and gosh, now we now that that was all wrong!” nonsense which gets in the way of an accurate message.

The science of human evolution is undergoing its own revolution. Although we tend to see the march of species down through time as a single-file parade, with descendant succeeding ancestor in a neat line, the emerging science shows that the story of our species is far more complicated than Biblical literalists would have it–but also more complex than secular science suspected.

i-5dc9c12e34967b1fd8d040363a829e26-darwin_tree.jpg

Ahem…”we”, kemosabe? That diagram to the right is a famous sketch from Darwin’s notebooks, drawn in 1837. This idea that our history is a linear series of begats is a biblical misconception, not something that evolutionary biologists have endorsed, and they have never favored that simplistic pattern, not even since The Origin was a glimmering in the mind of one man. Now way back in the 19th and early 20th century, there was a time when the number of known species in the hominid lineage was small enough that we could imagine a simple anagenetic succession—if you’ve only got two points, it’s easy to draw a line—but that was fairly quickly dispensed with as more and more diversity was unearthed. Why, even when I was a wee young bairn getting all my paleoanthropology from the Louis Leakey stories in National Geographic, the message was that there were all these different species coexisting simultaneously in ancient Africa.

And what’s with this “secular science” throw-away line? There’s no other kind.

As another for instance, after explaining the lovely work by Mark Stoneking on louse phylogeny, the reporter has to throw this in:

If you had asked paleoanthropologists a generation ago what lice DNA might reveal about how we became human, they would have laughed you out of the room.

Why, no. I guarantee you, they would have said, “That’s brilliant!” A generation ago they would have also rightly said that there are a lot of technical hurdles to overcome, but anthropologists are smart people who have experience with learning about human evolution by studying those little incidentals and cast-offs and artifacts of human life; supplementing our knowledge of humans with knowledge of human parasites would have been readily accepted. If you want to see a responsible explanation of the importance of studying parasite evolution, try reading Carl Zimmer’s take on a related issue; writers really do not have to drag out this lazy trope of pretending scientists mocked a good idea in order to make it exciting.

I groaned a little every time the reporter pulled this faux controversy crap — it deeply marred an otherwise interesting article on some really cool work. The message ought to have been one of refinement and increasing detail in understanding human evolution, not revolution. And it ought to have been more appreciative of the fact that working out the peculiarities of the history of one lineage is most definitely not the same as overturning theoretical principles that have been worked out for everything from bacteria to trees—there’s more than a little narrow parochialism in the article.

Unfortunately, the buggered sensationalism of the article’s presentation is all that the profoundly ignorant are going to take away from it. Take Scott Adams, for example; he read that article, and all he seems to have learned is the observation that scientific interpretations of hominid fossils have changed over the years. Forget new, deeper, broader information—science has CHAAAAAAAANGED! Change is bad!

I’ve been trying for years to reconcile my usually-excellent bullshit filter with the idea that evolution is considered a scientific fact. Why does a well-established scientific fact set off my usually-excellent bullshit filter like a five-alarm fire? It’s the fossil record that has been bugging me the most. It looks like bullshit. Smells like bullshit. Tastes like bullshit. Why isn’t it bullshit? All those scientists can’t be wrong.

If you are new to the Dilbert Blog, I remind you that I don’t believe in Intelligent Design or Creationism or invisible friends of any sort. I just think that evolution looks like a blend of science and bullshit, and have predicted for years that it would be revised in scientific terms in my lifetime. It’s a hunch – nothing more.

Yesterday I read this article in Newsweek about how DNA testing is being used to show that, well, fossils are bullshit.

No, the article does not say that, anywhere, or in any way. Fossils are still an essential part of explaining our history. DNA is also an essential part of the story. Putting the two together generates an even stronger collection of evidence for the evolution of our species.

I read his little whine, and I’m afraid that the lesson he should have taken from this is that his bullshit detector isn’t excellent—in fact, it’s badly broken.

The bottom line is that DNA tests (which do not set off my bullshit detector) have shown that you can’t really tell what set of bones begat other sets of bones just by looking at how they differed and how old they are. Apparently evolution is more complex than imagined, and there were lots of ape-people varieties wandering around at the same time. Some had modern features that they weren’t supposed to have. The so-called modern features apparently popped up and disappeared more than once, and in more than one species.

DNA tests do not set off his bullshit detector? Now I know it’s broken! I think we’ve got another fellow who has fallen under the spell of the CSI reality distortion field: DNA is not magic. Interpreting DNA is as difficult and requires as much specialized training, and is as subject to revision, as interpreting bones. What we have are multiple strains of evidence, each acting as a reality check on each other, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The only reason he accepts “DNA tests” is that Scott Adams for once recognizes that he knows nothing at all about a technological tool; he only thinks he knows it all about fossils.

Evolution has always been more complex than Scott Adams imagined. That statement indicts Adams’ imagination, not evolutionary biology.

As for the examples he cites…it’s curious that most of those complexities he mentions are derived from the fossil evidence, not the molecular evidence. His bullshit detector seems to be remarkably inconsistent.

To be fair, there’s still plenty of evidence for evolution. It’s not going away anytime soon. But personally, I’m cautious about any theory that keeps the same conclusion regardless of how many times the evidence for it changes. There was a time when the seemingly straight line of fossil evidence was the primary foundation for the theory. Now it seems that that straight line was like Little Billy from Family Circus finding his way home from the playground.

The “seemingly straight line of fossil evidence” never existed and was never the “primary foundation for the theory”. See diagram above. Darwin. 1837. Branchy branchy branchy. Read Gould’s Full House(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). 1997. Evolution is like a drunkard’s walk (hmmm, I never thought about that before, but has Little Billy been drinking?)

And there was a time when it seemed evolution was probably a fairly continuous and gradual process. Now it seems it happened in bursts, relatively speaking.

This has always been a subject for much discussion, and variation has been recognized. See George Gaylord Simpson. 1947. Tempo and Mode in Evolution(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Again, Adams mistakes his erroneous preconceptions for the actual scientific debate.

And there was a time when it seemed that mutations had to give some sort of survival advantage to endure, and now scientists believe that isn’t necessarily true.

No, we know that isn’t true, and we’ve known that for a good long while. Read Larry Moran’s essay on drift, for instance. Fisher came up with the math behind it in 1922; Wright named the phenomenon of drift in 1931. How old is Scott Adams, anyway?

It’s clear what Adams’ problems are. The bullshit detector he takes such pride in could function as a random number generator; he’s got this weird idea that revising interpretations on the basis of better evidence implies that entire disciplines of science are false; he imagines that his knowledge of biology is state-of-the-art; and at the same time, he’s abysmally ignorant. It’s a good thing that his profession requires him to act like a buffoon, because that combination of flaws guarantees that he’s very, very good at it.


Adams has put up a new post in which he claims to have made successful predictions. One is this:

1. DNA evidence shows that ape-human fossil records have been badly misinterpreted. (Nailed it.)

The man is unreachable by reason or evidence. And the rest of his ‘predictions’ are equally divorced from reality — he seems quite fond of “The Secret”, for instance.

Comments

  1. #1 Bronze Dog
    March 17, 2007

    Scott: Stick to office humor. That’s the only strength I’ve seen you exhibit.

  2. #2 Milo Johnson
    March 17, 2007

    His bullshit detector isn’t broken, it’s just horribly clogged with all of that biblical bullshit…

  3. #3 Mike Haubrich
    March 17, 2007

    The straight line thing that Scott-bert may be thinking of is related to the way that evolution is taught in high school biology. We only hit the highlights and traced the paths that at that time were believed to lead to humans. I don’t remember learning much about branching until hitting the books on my own, outside of class.

    Skepticism is a tool that takes years to develop. Adams seems unwilling to use it to examine his own conceptions, and so when he sees something that differs with his deeply held misconceptions, he can’t incorporate it.

  4. #4 Kevin
    March 17, 2007

    I read some of the comments. They were scary.

    Do people really think like that or were they all fake troll posts to rile people up.

    I know I used to post as The REAL Karl Rove and make fun of people at Eschaton.

  5. #5 Orac
    March 17, 2007

    It sounds to me as though Scott Adams and Dr. Egnor should get together. They’d have a lot to talk about, given the way that Dr. Egnor, when faced with concrete examples of the contribution that evolution makes to medicine (for example, in bacterial resistance) either dismisses them or redefines them as “not evolution.”

  6. #6 Monado
    March 17, 2007

    Actually, that was the misconception that got me blogging, after I read about the progress of evolution being a “steady, inevitable line” in the Toronto Globe & Mail.

  7. #7 Orac
    March 17, 2007

    Just a warning to everyone. Don’t read the comments on Scott Adams’ post. The stupid is so intense, it burns, with only a few people with an understanding of evolution subjecting themselves to the burning.

  8. #8 Steve_C
    March 17, 2007

    Scott Adams is one confused arrogant dumbass.

    I’m looking forward to his fans coming here to say he has a point.

    I don’t think their… “He was being funny! He was being obtuse!” is going to fly this time.

    Let’s get this straight. Evolution is a FACT. That Scott Adams says stupid shit is a fact too.

  9. #9 Monado
    March 17, 2007

    Damn! I don’t think that link came out properly.. My first original blog post was “Carriacture of evolution in discussion of Homo floresiensis.

  10. #10 Rey Fox
    March 17, 2007

    Oh, but he was joking, you see! It was all a thought excercise! He’s just tryin’ to rile ya! He’s not really full of shit!

  11. #11 CCP
    March 17, 2007

    Dead on, Dr. Myers, on both the Newsweek article and the opinions of the Ignorant Blogger Formerly Known As The Crappy Artist Who Draws That Stupid Comic.
    By the way, Little Billy has not been drinking. He has, however, been smoking doobs behind the playhouse with his buddies Howie and Spike. Recently his sister Dolly has been joining them.

  12. #12 Hank Fox
    March 17, 2007

    I’m a huge fan of fantasy and SF, but I have a wall in my head between amusements and what’s real. I’m not completely sure how I developed it, but … I just can’t imagine dirtying up my desire to understand things with my desire to be entertained.

    Assuming someone like Scott Adams has a healthy, normally-functioning brain, I guess I believe the main factor that’s gone awry is this mixing of “what’s true and factual” with “what I WANT to be true.”

    As a f’rinstance in my own life, I’m quite a bit shorter than average. Early in my adult life, I WANTED to be 6 feet tall. The time – and it was a specific moment, which I remember – that I realized I wasn’t going to ever BE 6 feet tall … well, it just opened up this sudden and immense clear space in my head. I can still recall the feeling – it was RELIEF. I was profoundly freed by it.

    Maybe that was the precise moment I learned the real difference between “what I want” and “what’s real.”

    (It came in handy later in dealing with baldness. Wise Old Saying I Made Up: “Once you lose half your hair, the pressure’s off.”)

    Unfortunately, so many people never get it, and this is yet another of the many things I fault religion for: It poisons you against learning that wishes aren’t reality.

    Once someone convinces you that people never actually die, maybe you’re less prone to think ANYTHING is definite. Maybe you’re forever-after willing to entertain any fantasy, thinking that no matter what it is, that somehow, some way, if you only pray right, think right, hold your mouth right, get enough people on board, skip over every crack, believe with all your might … it will be TRUE.

    Learning that this is not the case is a critical passage into adulthood. Too many of us today never make the trip.

  13. #13 Rey Fox
    March 17, 2007

    “the emerging science shows that the story of our species is far more complicated than Biblical literalists would have it–but also more complex than secular science suspected.”

    That line alone should bar this guy from ever writing science journalism again (is Carl Zimmer the only guy in America qualified to write these stories?). Science has shown the story of our species to be more complicated than the bible story for decades. That’s a long-dead issue. And then that “more complex than secular science” bit is not only redundant, but speaks to that pervading “both sides are wrong, the truth must be somewhere in the middle!” journalistic meme. “It’s clear, we need…Biblisecular Science!” Gah.

  14. #14 w00t
    March 17, 2007
  15. #15 Rey Fox
    March 17, 2007

    Oh, and Billy’s been freebasing pixie sticks.

  16. #16 PZ Myers
    March 17, 2007

    But Hank…on the internet, you are 8 feet tall.

  17. #17 Phil Plait
    March 17, 2007

    Actually, one comment, posted by Ric, is brilliant, and an excellent analogy for archaeology. He said:

    Try the War and Peace analogy of archaeology and paleontology.

    Take a big, oversized book with an extremely complcated and convoluted plot, such as War and Peace.
    Take one random letter from the first hundred pages.
    Take a word from the next fifty.
    Take three words at random from the next fifty.
    Take two words in order from the next fifty.
    Take slightly more and more letters and words until, but the last chapter, you’re getting perhaps one random letter per page. At the end, you actually get to read the last sentence.

    Now, using only that information, tell me the plot of the book.

  18. #18 PZ Myers
    March 17, 2007

    C’mon, Billy is a little kid — he doesn’t have the money to get at the really good drugs. My bet is that he’s been huffing Mommy’s hairspray.

  19. #19 Hank Fox
    March 17, 2007

    Sorry: Gotta chime in again. I’m having a further thought about this transition from a “what I want to be true” mindset to one of “what’s really true.”

    At base, it’s really the difference between a petulant insistence on “me-me-me,” and a gregarious openness to the outside world. The first one is completely natural to children, but is probably extremely unhealthy – possibly even delusional – for adults.

    I can even imagine “me-me-me” and “gregarious openness” as descriptive of THE critical mental divide between religion and science.

  20. #20 Hank Fox
    March 17, 2007

    Thanks, PZ! I really am LOL. 😀

  21. #21 Jim Harrison
    March 17, 2007

    Newsweek is in the business of entertainment, advertising, and propaganda. What do they care about the accuracy of their stories? Telling the truth is not a bullet in their mission statement. I expect that they feel that they shouldn’t print anything that is obviously false in an easily detectable way, but that’s in the realm of CYA.

    Mass-market journalists recognize that, however exciting it may be to its practioners, real science is hugely boring to the public at large. It might as well be financial accounting. Which is why everything turns into a version of the same narrative of orthodoxy and rebellion. People can be counted on to respond to what is basically an Oedipal story line. Meanwhile, as near as I can tell, the market for scientific popularization that actually focuses on the science–Zimmer’s books, for example–is mostly composed of scientists and their professional allies, a fairly large group in absolute numbers but too small a target demographic for a magazine like Newsweek.

  22. #22 Scott Belyea
    March 17, 2007

    Based on a sample of 2, one could ask, “What is it about cartoonists?” First Johnny Hart, now Adams.

    I dug out some early examples of each – good stuff. But at this point, they deserve each other …

  23. #23 Theo Bromine
    March 17, 2007

    “…also more complex than secular science suspected.”

    Argh, all we need is another mainstream article that YECs can quote and say “NyaNya, science has been found to be *wrong* *again*, scientists only believe evolution by faith just like Christians believe YEC by faith, so there.”

  24. #24 MikeG
    March 17, 2007

    Hank,
    You raise a very interesting point, and it got me pondering a bit.

    I got to thinking about the realization that comes in most people’s lives when they find out that they aren’t really the center of the universe. It’s part of what makes the “terrible twos” so terrible, the child is finally coming to a basic understanding that their parents’ lives are not solely dedicated to them.

    Your story is another piece of that puzzle. It’s all a continual process of learning that I’m just one of 6 billion of my particular species of meat bag. Some people make farther, some don’t.

    I have begun to wonder if many of the steps of this humbling process are also as tumultuous as the “terrible twos”, with prople fighting tooth and nail to maintain their percieved place in the universe. Is maybe all the noise, sound and fury coming from some of the religeous maybe the throes of one of these humbling steps?

    At least around here I can count on someone to call me on any bullshit I may have spewed.

    MikeG

  25. #25 dzd
    March 17, 2007

    If you are new to the Dilbert Blog, I remind you that I don’t believe in Intelligent Design

    Actually, Scott, as long as your objection consists of “Nuh-uh!”, then yes, you do.

  26. #26 Norman Doering
    March 17, 2007

    one could ask, “What is it about cartoonists?”

    Newspaper cartooning is a dying art and a time consumming activity, drawing every day, not leaving you a lot of time to study other subjects in detail and you have to reach a mass audience if you’re doing newspapers and the masses don’t buy into this godless evil-ution.

  27. #27 dzd
    March 17, 2007

    Actually, perhaps I’m being uncharitable to the IDers by associating Scott Adams with them, because he somehow manages to be more intellectually vapid.

  28. #28 blorf
    March 17, 2007

    I can even imagine “me-me-me” and “gregarious openness” as descriptive of THE critical mental divide between religion and science.

    The scariest aspect of this to me is the way certain sects push for a psuedo-openness; serve the needy, ‘witness’ etc. Now they are being taught that pretending to be healthy adults will serve the internal ‘me-me-me’ impulse.

  29. #29 CalGeorge
    March 17, 2007

    Evolutionary theory is beoming the Rodney Dangerfield of theories – no respect!

  30. #30 Sean
    March 17, 2007

    Evidence for the defense:

    http://www.uncommondescent.org

    Scott Adams may be intellectually over his head when confronting subjects beyond pointy-haired boss and human resource jokes, but nothing can touch the collective ‘duh’ from the ID community.

    As that Steve fellow mentioned earlier, this should be the final nail in ‘he is only making a funny’ excuse some Dilbertites used during the earlier rounds. No. No he was not. He was dead seriously being wrong.

  31. #31 The Rev. Jenner J. Hull
    March 17, 2007

    “Bullshit filter,” filter thyself.

  32. #32 Colugo
    March 17, 2007

    Here is one problem, which gets magnified by the ignorant – for example, Scott Adams. After Kuhn, a lot of scientists, enabled by hype-mongering science journalists, tended to present their own theories and findings as paradigm shifts. Postmodernist science critics also emphasized the notion that scientific worldviews are frequently overturned. The appealing myth of the brave intellectual iconoclast shattering ossified doctrine predates Kuhn, of course.

    Too many scientists, and more so, science journalists, present new findings and theories as challenging mainstream thought, exaggerate its implications, create unnecessary neologisms, fail to recognize predecessors and peers working on the same or similar issues, and caricature past and prevailing paradigms as hidebound and blinkered. At worst, crackpot ideas are promoted as self-justifying – the logic being that if a majority of scientists reject an idea, it must represent a cutting-edge paradigm shift.

    There are genuine revolutions and paradigm shifts in science, but not nearly as many as science journalism and popular science books seem to suggest. In addition, there is often a long gestation period for these revolutions, enabled by a plurality of theories and paradigms within fields.

  33. #33 MarkP
    March 17, 2007

    The bullshit detector he takes such pride in could function as a random number generator; he’s got this weird idea that revising interpretations on the basis of better evidence implies that entire disciplines of science are false; he imagines that his knowledge of biology is state-of-the-art; and at the same time, he’s abysmally ignorant

    This “weird idea” is really just old-fashioned rationalism, believing that one can get knowledge, merely sitting around and thinking about things, that can rival science. It’s really a common bad intellectual habit of smart people, probably formed in our formative years where neither we nor our peers had had enough time on earth to accumulate knowledge, so intellect was king in all things. However, after 30+ years of existence, even the smartest person in the world can be in completely over his head when entering a field he has studied little.

    People like Adams implicitly reject this reality. Never mind that people with genius IQs have been working in critical concert collecting data and performing falsifiable experiments (ie science) for decades on these problems. I, Joe Blow, with my complete lack of academic accomplishment in this arena, and my minutes of direct experience with it, merely musing over the issues, don’t see how they reach the conclusions they do, therefore they are flawed.

    Arrogance is too mild a term.

  34. #34 MarkP
    March 17, 2007

    Adams’ rationalistic view also explains why he sees change as bad. If one sees the ultimate measure of truth as reason, then upon seeing a conclusion change, it is natural to ask “Why do you reason differently now than you did before? Logic has not changed, so if your conclusion changed there must have been a flaw in your logic”. It is only by taking a scientific view that places evidence above reason, that one can get comfortable with the idea of changing theories, because one can never completely rule out the existence of as yet unknown data with strange implications.

  35. #35 Narc
    March 17, 2007

    He’s using “bullshit detector” as a synonym for “intuition.” Unfortunately, that’s a crap way to do science.

  36. #36 Colugo
    March 17, 2007

    “even the smartest person in the world can be in completely over his head when entering a field he has studied little.”

    Adams’ main problem is not his ignorance, but his arrogance. He dismisses paleontology as “bullshit” because he does not understand it; he has no clue how scientists use paleontological data to derive and test hypotheses.

    Even some scientists do this: snidely and contemptuously dismiss entire fields and schools of thought outside of their own expertise, often grossly caricaturing them in the process. Rather than a well-informed and sophisticated critique of specific topics, they just hand-wave away whole fields as being unworthy. Some examples:

    Lynn Margulis’ dismissal of the Modern Synthesis
    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/03/lynn_margulis_blog_tour.php

    Larry Moran’s dismissal of the adaptationist research program, especially in the area of human behavior
    http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2007/02/just-so-stories.html

    Robert Lanza’s dismissal of contemporary physics
    http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2007/03/robert_lanza_do.html

  37. #37 Jamas Enright
    March 17, 2007

    (Ooh, my first comment here.) Not to defend Scott, but there are two paragraphs in the article that really generated his post and I haven’t seen addressed here. It’s on the second page:

    It starts just below the advertisement:
    “Now the contentious part. In 2001, a team digging in Chad unearthed what it claimed was the oldest fossil of an ancestor of humans but not chimps. If so, it must have lived after the two lineages split. Trouble was, Sahelanthropus tchadensis (nicknamed Toumai, the local word for “child”) lived close to 7 million years ago. The genetic data, pointing to a human-chimp split at least 1 million years later, suggest that Toumai is not the ur-hominid–the first creature ancestral only to human and not our chimp cousins–after all.

    If Toumai is not our ancestor, what is he doing with such a humanlike face and teeth, which look like those of species 5 million years his junior?”

  38. #38 Roy
    March 17, 2007

    The Newsweek original draft may have been straight reporting. The editors may have ‘sexed it up’ by trying to make the story ‘interesting’ by adding lies, distortions, making stuff up — any of their usual tricks.

  39. #39 Don Cates
    March 17, 2007

    Obviously, Hank needs to read _The Secret_.
    (Don’t forget the anti-nausea medication)

  40. #40 MYOB
    March 17, 2007

    Let me see. Scott says he doesn’t accept intelligent design. Nor does he accept creationism. But he doesn’t think Evolution is right either. So then what theory does he wish would come out that isn’t in either one of these camps?

    Logic seems to pass this kid over doesn’t it?

  41. #41 Sean Foley
    March 17, 2007

    “Now way back in the 19th and early 20th century, there was a time when the number of known species in the hominid lineage was small enough that we could imagine a simple anagenetic succession–if you’ve only got two points, it’s easy to draw a line–but that was fairly quickly dispensed with as more and more diversity was unearthed.”

    This isn’t quite accurate. In his 1951 paper “Taxonomic categories in fossil hominids,” Ernst Mayr argued for subsuming all named fossil hominids into three time-successive species of the genus Homo: Homo transvaalensis, Homo erectus, and Homo sapiens. This “hyperlumping” persisted for quite a while.

    Mayr E. 1951. “Taxonomic categories in fossil
    hominids.” Cold Spring Harbor Symp Quantitative
    Biol 15:109-118

  42. #42 TheBlackCat
    March 17, 2007

    “If Toumai is not our ancestor, what is he doing with such a humanlike face and teeth, which look like those of species 5 million years his junior?”

    I don’t know the specifics of that particular case, but there is something known as “convergent evolution”. The eye, for instance, evolved many different times. There is no reason that similar features cannot not evolve in different lineages, and in fact this is fairly common.

  43. #43 SEF
    March 17, 2007

    I can even imagine “me-me-me” and “gregarious openness” as descriptive of THE critical mental divide between religion and science.

    Which is one of the things I’ve been trying to point out over on the BBC religion MBs. Except that, naturally, the religious extremists don’t want to hear it. Warning, the level of stupid over there generally is also painful to behold.

    That and the Morton’s demon aspect of things made me think the other day of doing a modification of the what-dogs-hear what-cats-hear cartoon with the addition of a what-creationists-hear panel (involving ignoring all substantive content and substituting bizarrely warped fantasy versions instead such as “I hate god”). But I wasn’t quite sure who owns the original (though parody fair use probably applies anyway) and where it might be.

  44. #44 Josh
    March 17, 2007

    How does he know what bullshit tastes like?

  45. #45 Kagehi
    March 17, 2007

    Snort.. See, the problem Jamas is two fold. The first being that the more gaps you fill in, the more likely you are to find that things get complicated and that *maybe* some species appeared with similar features, but which where lacking in some key feature that prevented them from being the division point. The prior assumption about the split might be wrong, or the new fossil might be part of a dead end. Alternatively, the new fossil might even be a rare case (we only have one at the moment) or a mule or liger type. Something that existed between the two, because inbreeding could still produce non-reproductive hybreds, which never produced an entire line of creatures. None of which disrupts evolution any more than finding out that some species of dog wasn’t actually the first transitional species *uniquely* doggish, which split them from the earlier lineage that both cats and dogs came from. Scott’s objections are still bullshit. Its like complaining that finding what might have been a “programmable car” designed by Leonardo da Vinci invalidates the entire science of computers, because it means Babbage wasn’t the first guy to come up with a “computer”. No, it just means your best information at the time wasn’t *slightly* inaccurate.

    By the same token, finding an earlier human/ape split just means the data was wrong about when it happened, but not how it likely happened, that a split did happen, or anything else that Scott Adams and the other ignocrats insist.

  46. #46 Beluga
    March 17, 2007

    Gosh Darnit! I will never read Dilbert again…

  47. #47 Pieter B
    March 17, 2007

    I was going to read dilbertblog and the comments, but my head exploded when I read li’l Scottie’s last sentence:

    And if this isn’t enough to spike my blog hit count, I should add that the first person to explain that science continuously revises itself — and that’s what makes it so great! — has no free will.

  48. #48 Kristine
    March 17, 2007

    Now it seems that that straight line was like Little Billy from Family Circus finding his way home from the playground.

    Well, there you have it, folks. An anology from another (creepy) cartoon in which none of the kids grow up.

    Says it all about Adams.

  49. #49 Justin
    March 17, 2007

    Part of this whole silly problem is that it’s impossible to explain to a person what they don’t know. It’s so hard for someone to simulate in his/her brain what a geneticist or paleontologist could possibly do for 50 hours a week, that othey assume it’s trivial. The basic sentiment in his article is “I knew it! I always FELT that there was something wrong!” It sucks that the onus is on us to recapitulate about 200 years of science and math in a bite-size format to justify our beliefs.

  50. #50 Ichthyic
    March 17, 2007

    Well said, Justin, and this is exactly why Adams is correctly accused of blind arrogance in deciding to expound his views as somehow insightful and meaningful.

    not that it’s uncommon, but he deserves every slap he gets for doing it, nonetheless.

    I could give a rat’s ass if Adams is ever cured of his ignorance, but I sure would like to see him learn to STFU before making such “insightful” proclamations based on his level of indigestion.

  51. #51 Eamon Knight
    March 17, 2007

    Just yesterday we were re-organizing (and culling) the Home Library From Hell, and ran across some Dilbert collections. We actually paused for a moment debating whether to keep or ditch them (we kept them — the office humour is still mostly funny).

    But: Adams’ remark about his “excellent bullshit filter” must have blown irony meters all over the intertoobs. I think he must have it plumbed wrong, with the “Bad Stuff” and “Good Stuff” output pipes switched.

  52. #52 Davis
    March 17, 2007

    If Toumai is not our ancestor, what is he doing with such a humanlike face and teeth, which look like those of species 5 million years his junior?

    Umm, wait. Go back to the previous paragraph:

    The genetic data, pointing to a human-chimp split at least 1 million years later

    This would imply Toumai is our ancestor, but is also an ancestor of chimps.

  53. #53 The Atheist Jew
    March 17, 2007

    Doesn’t Adams have any learned friends he can talk with before spewing off YEC like posts. Poking holes with no science to back you up is so 20th century.

  54. #54 Gvlgeologist
    March 17, 2007

    Re:

    Newspaper cartooning is a dying art and a time consumming activity, drawing every day, not leaving you a lot of time to study other subjects in detail and you have to reach a mass audience if you’re doing newspapers and the masses don’t buy into this godless evil-ution.

    I’ve got to point out that for every Johnny Hart (who I really do find abhorent) and Scott Adams (who I hope wises up) there are the Wiley Miller (Non Sequitur), Hillary Price (Rhymes with Orange), Berke Breathed (Opus), Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury), and of course, Gary Larson (the very lamented Far Side), all of whom, as I recall, have put out science-friendly and I think even evolution friendly strips.

    Re Hank’s comments – several years ago I had a student in my geology class (a Poli Sci major) who stated that his objection to the theory of evolution was that he was uncomfortable with the idea that he was descended from apes. Ignoring the inaccuracy of the statement (common ancestor and all that), I asked him whether he thought that his degree of discomfort had any affect on reality. Funny – he never answered the question and kept trying to answer questions that I wasn’t asking. He was quite frustrated that I wouldn’t let him off the hook. Maybe he started along the path of realizing that what we want and what reality is are two different things.

  55. #55 David Marjanovi?
    March 17, 2007

    Trouble was, Sahelanthropus tchadensis (nicknamed Toumai, the local word for “child”) lived close to 7 million years ago. The genetic data, pointing to a human-chimp split at least 1 million years later

    With an error margin of how much? +- 2 million years?

    I’ve done molecular dating. If you don’t choose enough calibration points in the right time range and the right parts of the tree, the results are wrong.

    Worse yet, in this particular case I can’t see any potential calibration points. (Can anyone else?) This means that *shudder* a constant rate must have been taken from elsewhere. Firstly, evolution rates are not constant, so this approach gives a large error range; secondly, the rate that was amazingly popular for birds — used as late as 2006 — has turned out to have been calculated under wrong assumptions (the split between two goose species had happened much earlier than assumed). If that rate was used here, the date must have been underestimated.

    Of course, it’s not impossible that either convergence is at work or that the chimps have undergone a couple of reversals. But it’s not likely.

  56. #56 David Marjanovi?
    March 17, 2007

    Trouble was, Sahelanthropus tchadensis (nicknamed Toumai, the local word for “child”) lived close to 7 million years ago. The genetic data, pointing to a human-chimp split at least 1 million years later

    With an error margin of how much? +- 2 million years?

    I’ve done molecular dating. If you don’t choose enough calibration points in the right time range and the right parts of the tree, the results are wrong.

    Worse yet, in this particular case I can’t see any potential calibration points. (Can anyone else?) This means that *shudder* a constant rate must have been taken from elsewhere. Firstly, evolution rates are not constant, so this approach gives a large error range; secondly, the rate that was amazingly popular for birds — used as late as 2006 — has turned out to have been calculated under wrong assumptions (the split between two goose species had happened much earlier than assumed). If that rate was used here, the date must have been underestimated.

    Of course, it’s not impossible that either convergence is at work or that the chimps have undergone a couple of reversals. But it’s not likely.

  57. #57 Unstable Isotope
    March 17, 2007

    That is very sad {glares at Dilbert calendar}.

  58. #58 Alex Whiteside
    March 17, 2007

    I’ve cut Adams some slack when he was discussing ID from a philosophical, well-this-has-interesting-implications-for-the-idea-of-the-creator-deity standpoint, but he’s gone off the deap end since he started commenting on the actual, y’know, science.

  59. #59 Geoffrey
    March 17, 2007

    MYOB:

    Scott says he doesn’t accept intelligent design. Nor does he accept creationism. But he doesn’t think Evolution is right either. So then what theory does he wish would come out that isn’t in either one of these camps?

    To save you the tedium of wading through his pseudointellectual screeds, his ‘explanation’ goes something like this: “How do you know what you’re seeing is actually real? I think the reason we can’t explain how animals evolved is that we can’t even perceive what animals are, and the things we ‘see’ in our minds don’t accurately represent reality, so we don’t even know if there’s a question to be answered out there.”

    Or to boil it down a little further: “We can’t ever be certain of anything, therefore as long as I stick to questioning existing theories and don’t attempt to propose an alternative I can look wise.” It’s at the same sort of level of ‘profundity’ as “how do I know that I see blue as the same colour that you see it”.

    If there were serious flaws with evolution that didn’t look resolvable, this whole “your perception of the question is wrong” line might be a reasonable avenue of investigation, but sans such flaws it runs up against Occam’s razor.

  60. #60 windy
    March 17, 2007
    Trouble was, Sahelanthropus tchadensis (nicknamed Toumai, the local word for “child”) lived close to 7 million years ago. The genetic data, pointing to a human-chimp split at least 1 million years later

    With an error margin of how much? +- 2 million years? I’ve done molecular dating. If you don’t choose enough calibration points in the right time range and the right parts of the tree, the results are wrong. Worse yet, in this particular case I can’t see any potential calibration points. (Can anyone else?)

    It’s frequently calibrated on when orangutangs split from other great apes (for which there are likely fossils).

    This means that *shudder* a constant rate must have been taken from elsewhere. Firstly, evolution rates are not constant, so this approach gives a large error range; secondly, the rate that was amazingly popular for birds — used as late as 2006 — has turned out to have been calculated under wrong assumptions (the split between two goose species had happened much earlier than assumed). If that rate was used here, the date must have been underestimated.

    Why would anyone use a bird-derived rate on apes?

    I don’t think these models are done as naively as you suggest. The current models can accommodate rate differences between lineages and all sorts of other detail. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to choose the best models.

    The 5 to 7 million years estimate is frequently cited:
    http://www.physorg.com/news9211.html

    Then there was the interpretation of humans and chimps interbreeding over millions of years.

    And a four(!) million year estimate:
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17302266/

    It seems that we live in interesting times regarding hominid speciation models. But don’t expect any safe and early, pre-any-fossil-hominid dates from them…

  61. #61 Stanton
    March 17, 2007

    So, Geoffry, what you’re saying is that Scott Adams is a solipsist?

  62. #62 Aerik
    March 17, 2007

    I noticed the username of the person who submitted this article to Reddit was “pzmyers”.

    Are you submitting your own stuff to social bookmarking sites? If so, that’s just blogspam, and it’s not cool.

  63. #63 Geoffrey
    March 17, 2007

    I’m not sure whether his stance is pure solipsism, but it’s along those lines. From what I read of his posts, the impression I got was more “only our minds” than the true solipsist’s “only my mind”. (I suspect because the former is less likely to alienate his audience, even though it has a big logical hole in it – since the only evidence we have for other minds is through our senses.)

    I have mixed feelings about skeptical hypotheses (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skeptical_hypothesis ). On the one hand they’re an interesting avenue for exploration and can provoke worthwhile thought; science owes a lot to them. On the other, I get the impression that people like Adams treat them less as a starting point for thought than as an endpoint – a sort of Get Out Of Logic Free card.

  64. #64 Stanton
    March 17, 2007

    In that case, then, I wonder if there’s a “hive” or “communal solipsism”?
    Either way, we should require people to obtain a Skeptical Hypothesis license, under pain of torture, before they can fancy themselves scientific skeptics.

  65. #65 Robert
    March 17, 2007

    How does Adams make a living off of making scenarios about one person continually interrupting another person’s expertise with their limited knowledge … to go off and do it himself?

  66. #66 melior
    March 17, 2007

    This idea that our history is a linear series of begats is a biblical misconception, not something that evolutionary biologists have endorsed, and they have never favored that simplistic pattern

    This was driven home in an especially wonderful way in Dawkins’ The Ancestors Tale, in which we get to follow the whole magnificent parade backwards in time as the various denizens from different branches merge together as they slouch towards a common origin.

  67. #67 Krystalline Apostate
    March 17, 2007

    For someone who likes to do thought experiments, he sure doesn’t think before he opens his mouth.
    But personally, I’m cautious about any theory that keeps the same conclusion regardless of how many times the evidence for it changes.
    Sounds like a theist, demanding certitude.
    There was a time when the seemingly straight line of fossil evidence was the primary foundation for the theory.
    This always sets my teeth on edge, because creationist ALWAYS posit a linear progression, whether it’s the 2nd law or the fossil record.
    For an atheist, he sure argues like a theist.
    Of course, the response is ‘I was just…playing around guys, jeez, what I say is just too hard for the people who criticize me to understand.’

  68. #68 Lago
    March 17, 2007

    We did evolve from apes, and are, for the best of it, apes ourselves. We did not evolve from the extant apes, but share a common ancestor.

    Oh, and by the way, I know we did not evolve directly from monkeys, but caring in how you define monkeys, can’t we, if we so desire, also state that one of our primate ancestors qualifies as being defined as monkey?

    Think this through before any of you care to respond. A knee jerk reaction saying, “We did not evolve from BLANK”…may be pure semantics. In short, as yourself, do some physical anthropologists define the human ancestor as an ape? And do apes have an ancestor that we can place under the definition of monkey if we so desire?

  69. #69 Rajesh
    March 18, 2007

    @#58: So, Scott Adams is the white Deepak Chopra.

  70. #70 Pygmy Loris
    March 18, 2007

    Lago,

    I guess I can answer how physical anthropologists would define human ancestors, seeing as how I am one 🙂

    Humans definitely evolved from an ape. Specifically we evolved from an African ape that also gave rise to three (or more depending on who you ask) species of extant apes. We do specifically teach that humans did not evolve from chimps…we have a common ancestor with chimps that was not a chimp.

    What really bugs me about this is that the chimps are assumed to have remained largely unchanged during the 5-6 my between the human-chimp split, even though there are currently at least 2 extant species of chimps in Africa.

    The putative ancestor of apes was a primate that could be called a monkey, only because the term “monkey” means an anthropoid that is not an ape, so presumably the ancestor of all apes was something we would call a monkey.

    I won’t even get into why this article drove me nuts!

  71. #71 Lago
    March 18, 2007

    Thanks Pygmy, that was pretty much what I suspected. I think people have too often confused us with not evolving from extant apes, with evolving from apes in general..

  72. #72 moriarty
    March 18, 2007

    Maybe Saturday Night Live can do a skit making fun of Scott Adams. They just did one making fun of Oprah and The Sercet. Funniest thing they’ve done in years (which is to say, it wasn’t that funny).

  73. #73 truth machine
    March 18, 2007

    Adams thinks he’s got a great bullshit detector, but he takes a Newsweek article as gospel that shows that evolution is bullshit. His interpretation of a hack reporter’s interpretation of the findings of scientists is superior to the interpretation of the scientists.

    What an arrogant moron.

  74. #74 Christian Burnham
    March 18, 2007

    Lago-

    I’ve said it before, but I think a great many misconceptions about this world could be solved if we referred to each-other as apes first and human second.

  75. #75 Jason
    March 18, 2007

    You all sound as intolerant and homogenous as any fundamentalist religion.

    No doubt can be tolerated! Those who question are idiots! Those who thoughtfully consider their own difficulties in understanding are fools! We have the facts! They are unassailable!

  76. #76 Kristjan Wager
    March 18, 2007

    What I don’t get about the Newsweek article is that the story is several years old.

    Sciencenews wrote about the subject in 2003 in an article called The Naked Truth? Lice hint at a recent origin of clothing, back when the 2003 study was published.

  77. #77 Azkyroth
    March 18, 2007

    Gobdamnit, is the old Jason back? Or is the new one drunk? O.o

    Or did my irony meter switch off to save power? I need sleep x.x

  78. #78 Unstable Isotope
    March 18, 2007

    I think Scott Adams is more like the pointy-haired boss than Dilbert. He takes the following scientific evidence: 1) a Newsweek article, 2) his high school biology class and 3) his own ass and declares evolution bad science!

    BTW, Newsweek didn’t say evolution was B.S., it only said that it isn’t a straight line. That’s a “no duh” to a lot of us, but I think a lot of people don’t know that.

  79. #79 Mike Haubrich
    March 18, 2007

    You all sound as intolerant and homogenous as any fundamentalist religion.

    No doubt can be tolerated! Those who question are idiots! Those who thoughtfully consider their own difficulties in understanding are fools! We have the facts! They are unassailable!

    Yep, that about sums it up, Jason. Um you’re talking about the ID folks, right?

    In case you aren’t, and are taking the “victim” tack, the fine point is that people who have decided without actually studying what science has to say about evolution and then deciding it is BS are being idiotic. Adams is claiming credibility but he is so fuzzy when he says that Creo-ID are wrong but Evolution is also somehow wrong (but he can’t place his finger on why) that he looks like he should spend some time reading books on evolution.

    Dilbert is cute strip, and the things he points out WRT the workplace are sometimes spot on target. But he talks out of his hat on subjects for which he has no understanding. And he is unwilling to check it out.

    We report, you decide. Who is the idiot here?

  80. #80 xebecs
    March 18, 2007

    Just a warning to everyone. Don’t read the comments on Scott Adams’ post. The stupid is so intense, it burns, with only a few people with an understanding of evolution subjecting themselves to the burning.

    Just remember: Those commenters are the same, sad people who signed up for Dogbert’s New Ruling Class “just in case”.

  81. #81 Geoffrey
    March 18, 2007

    I think Scott Adams is more like the pointy-haired boss than Dilbert.

    Not too surprising – I don’t know about the hairstyle, but in real life Adams was an MBA who managed engineers before he created Dilbert. (And IIRC, the early strips are more favourable to the PHB and less to Dilbert than they later became.)

  82. #82 Saint Gasoline
    March 18, 2007

    Scott Adams gives comic writers / bloggers like myself a bad name. Thanks for ripping him a new one, PZ.

  83. #83 Mila
    March 18, 2007

    No doubt can be tolerated! Those who question are idiots! Those who thoughtfully consider their own difficulties in understanding are fools! We have the facts! They are unassailable!”

    My God!
    The problem is,frankly, that “questioning” without a basic understanding of what you are questioning rightfully earns you the label “IDIOT”.

    When your “difficulties in understanding” are due to a lack of investigation into a subject, when you have a reasonable intellect, (as Scott presumably does) then “fool” would be the very best description for you.

    So, Jason, for gods sake, stop whining! If you dont want to use your brain, and insist on defending others like you, you will continue to be like the irritating whiny overindulged kid that everyone just wants to slap.

  84. #84 Mark G.
    March 18, 2007

    My flatmate has a dozen Dilbert books. The one living in the bathroom at present has a picture of Dilbert and the Pointy Haired Boss on the cover. Dilbert is asking the Boss “When did ignorance become a point of view?”, a question which could be asked of Adams.

  85. #85 Selma
    March 18, 2007

    Sorry, PZ, I can’t get past the title, I’m laughing too hard!

  86. #86 Augustine
    March 18, 2007

    People who agree with Shelly that religion is OKAY, this is for you, so you can better understand why religion must be stamped out…

    Deuteronomy 22: 28 If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. 29 Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her

    Deuteronomy 7:1 When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations … then you must destroy them totally. 2 Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.

    Leviticus 21: 9 And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father; she shall be burnt with fire.

    Shelly, I would like to buy into this Bible stuff like you do, but it seems too violent for modern society. Here is how a moderate Christian defends abortion…

    “The Book of Exodus clearly indicates that the fetus does not have the same legal status as a person (Chapter 21:22-23). That verse indicates that if a man pushes a pregnant woman and she then miscarries, he is required only to pay a fine. If the fetus were considered a full person, he would be punished more severely as though he had taken a life.”

    That is the kind of stuff that Christians like Shelley are fine letting others believe. Here is another example…

    “By our deepest convictions about Christian standards and teaching, the war in Iraq was not just a well-intended mistake or only mismanaged. THIS WAR, FROM A CHRISTIAN POINT OF VIEW, IS MORALLY WRONG – AND WAS FROM THE VERY START. It cannot be justified with either the teachings of Jesus Christ OR the criteria of St. Augustine’s just war. It simply doesn’t pass either test and did not from its beginning. This war is not just an offense against the young Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice or to the Iraqis who have paid such a horrible price. This war is not only an offense to the poor at home and around the world who have paid the price of misdirected resources and priorities. This war is also an offense against God.”

    Seems like that Christian has actually arrived at the right destination (one of the few who has), AMAZING! I guess the only problem remaining here is the compass (RELIGION), which can be unreliable and is easily misinterpreted.

    http://www.beliefnet.com/blogs/godspolitics/

    Leviticus 20: 27 A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones; their blood shall be upon them.

    Cheers to PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (and myself), who can see the danger in sadistic “fairy tales”.

  87. #87 fnxtr
    March 18, 2007

    Scott Adams claiming he has a great bullshit detector is like a skunk claiming it has a great olfactory sense and then asking “Smelly discharge? What smelly discharge?”

  88. #88 Blake Stacey
    March 18, 2007

    xebecs said:

    Just remember: Those commenters are the same, sad people who signed up for Dogbert’s New Ruling Class “just in case”.

    The last time the Dilbert fans invaded, I said,

    I haven’t paid any attention since the mid-1990s, but I recall that Adams ran an online fan club whose premise was that when Dogbert finally took over the world, the members of the DNRC would become the elite philosopher-kings lording it over the “Induhvidual” mob. You can either take that as a satiric send-up of elitism, or view it as a reflection, perhaps slightly exaggerated, of the world’s true situation. Faux elitism, or the real thing?

    (Now, there’s nothing particularly wrong with elitism. I admit it: I’m an elitist. I love my elite so much I think everybody should belong to it.)

    I didn’t think much of it at the time, but looking back, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some cross-fertilization between DNRC types and the teenage Ayn Rand cult. Interesting possibility. . . .

    A little while later, Sonja wrote,

    People are having a hard time putting Mr. Adams into a category and argue with him the same way they would an IDist from Discovery Institute. However, he’s approaching this stuff from a different, but equally stupid angle.

    He lives in the west and has adopted a philosophy that is peculiar to his region and his generation. It’s surprisingly similar to Oprah’s “spirituality” — a combination of New Age and libertarianism. It’s a philosophy that says the universe has a purpose and that purpose is to make me rich.

    And then, in comment #204, a bloke named Jonathan said derisively of PZ’s post, “Spoken like a true secular-progressive leftist.” Now, to me, none of those words are insults, nor do they become so when used in combination. I guess that makes me a radical Commie pinko bastard.

  89. #89 Pieter B
    March 18, 2007

    “Jason” wrote:

    You all sound as intolerant and homogenous as any fundamentalist religion.

    No doubt can be tolerated! Those who question are idiots! Those who thoughtfully consider their own difficulties in understanding are fools! We have the facts! They are unassailable!

    I didn’t see anything in Scott Adams’s rambling that could be accurately described as “thoughtful consideration of his difficulty in understanding” evolution. It was “I don’t understand it and because I don’t understand it, it’s bullshit.”

  90. #90 Mike
    March 18, 2007

    “People who agree with Shelly that religion is OKAY, this is for you, so you can better understand why religion must be stamped out…”

    Ugh, ‘Augustine’, that’s the rough equivalent of the creos tossing ‘It’s a tautology!’ or ‘It’s contrary to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics!’ However, if it makes you feel clever, then by all means, enjoy the feeling, fleeting as it must be. And enjoy being mentioned in the same sentence as your heroes, even if you had to do it yourself.

  91. #91 David Marjanovi?
    March 18, 2007

    It’s frequently calibrated on when orangutangs split from other great apes (for which there are likely fossils).

    Ah, good. Still just one point, and external, but clearly better than nothing.

    Why would anyone use a bird-derived rate on apes?

    Good question, but I’ve seen worse.

    The current models can accommodate rate differences between lineages and all sorts of other detail. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to choose the best models.

    Yes, I’ve done some molecular dating… and fortunately stumbled over a paper that showed that Modeltest uses a neighbor-joining guide tree… I digress.

    Then there was the interpretation of humans and chimps interbreeding over millions of years.

    The evidence for this is quite good, judging from the paper.

    In short, as yourself, do some physical anthropologists define the human ancestor as an ape? And do apes have an ancestor that we can place under the definition of monkey if we so desire?

    Yes, except you can’t define something as an ape — you can only apply the definition of “ape” (if there is one!) to it and see if it fits.

    (Now, there’s nothing particularly wrong with elitism. I admit it: I’m an elitist. I love my elite so much I think everybody should belong to it.)

    Great quote!

    BTW, Augustine is a troll. He has posted this screed on several blogs, always in completely unrelated threads.

  92. #92 David Marjanovi?
    March 18, 2007

    It’s frequently calibrated on when orangutangs split from other great apes (for which there are likely fossils).

    Ah, good. Still just one point, and external, but clearly better than nothing.

    Why would anyone use a bird-derived rate on apes?

    Good question, but I’ve seen worse.

    The current models can accommodate rate differences between lineages and all sorts of other detail. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to choose the best models.

    Yes, I’ve done some molecular dating… and fortunately stumbled over a paper that showed that Modeltest uses a neighbor-joining guide tree… I digress.

    Then there was the interpretation of humans and chimps interbreeding over millions of years.

    The evidence for this is quite good, judging from the paper.

    In short, as yourself, do some physical anthropologists define the human ancestor as an ape? And do apes have an ancestor that we can place under the definition of monkey if we so desire?

    Yes, except you can’t define something as an ape — you can only apply the definition of “ape” (if there is one!) to it and see if it fits.

    (Now, there’s nothing particularly wrong with elitism. I admit it: I’m an elitist. I love my elite so much I think everybody should belong to it.)

    Great quote!

    BTW, Augustine is a troll. He has posted this screed on several blogs, always in completely unrelated threads.

  93. #93 Paul Flocken
    March 18, 2007

    While the article does contain many unfortunate choices of words, the author, Sharon Begley, is not the complete and utter dolt that many of you paint her (some of you refered to her as he) to be. She has written many good science pieces for that bastion of conservative thought The Wall Street Journal and many of them are good honest slams against ID Creationism and the rest of its ilk and brethren and their promoters.

    Neither did anyone mention a Live Chat listed in the article that seemed to carry on much better then did Margulis’ chat from last week (perhaps aided by the fact that questions could be presubmitted). She was very capable there, although her conciliatory responses about religion would no doubt rankle PZ.

    Sincerely,
    Paul

  94. #94 Azkyroth
    March 18, 2007

    Ah. I was wondering…

  95. #95 windy
    March 18, 2007
    Why would anyone use a bird-derived rate on apes?

    Good question, but I’ve seen worse.

    Like using the artiodactyl/cetacean split as a calibration point for hominids? *shudder*

    (see: http://www.springerlink.com/content/8ren3w4q1c77pegg/

  96. #96 Kevin
    March 18, 2007

    So he says that he doesn’t believe in ID or creationism at the start. But read his predictions, the ones he brags about, and what do you see? Intelligent design will be validated. Only he dresses it up by saying that humans made humans with some BS called retrocasuality, where I guess future people created past people, thereby ensuring that the future people would exist to create the past people…Man, that is why I ended up hating the Terminator movies. Time travel is fucking stupid. So is Mr. Adams.

  97. #97 David Marjanovi?
    March 19, 2007

    Like using the artiodactyl/cetacean split as a calibration point for hominids?

    OUCH! Yes, this kind of thing. (Never mind that the artiodactyls are paraphyletic.)

    The worst I can remember off the top of my head is using the “primate-rodent divergence” 110 Ma ago as a calibration point for all manner of mammals. That has happened several times and was based on the Nature paper by Kumar & Hedges (1998) where the rodents were polyphyletic, mice and rats being the first placental branches to diverge due to painfully obvious long-branch attraction, and 110 Ma being the average age of these two nodes based on the single calibration point of the theropsid-sauropsid divergence 310 Ma ago (a date that is at least a bit too young and very poorly constrained). In short, the use of a fictitious calibration point.

    Only he dresses it up by saying that humans made humans with some BS called retrocasuality, where I guess future people created past people, thereby ensuring that the future people would exist to create the past people…

    😮

    That IS humor. He IS just being funny.

    Please.

    PLEASE!!!

  98. #98 David Marjanovi?
    March 19, 2007

    Like using the artiodactyl/cetacean split as a calibration point for hominids?

    OUCH! Yes, this kind of thing. (Never mind that the artiodactyls are paraphyletic.)

    The worst I can remember off the top of my head is using the “primate-rodent divergence” 110 Ma ago as a calibration point for all manner of mammals. That has happened several times and was based on the Nature paper by Kumar & Hedges (1998) where the rodents were polyphyletic, mice and rats being the first placental branches to diverge due to painfully obvious long-branch attraction, and 110 Ma being the average age of these two nodes based on the single calibration point of the theropsid-sauropsid divergence 310 Ma ago (a date that is at least a bit too young and very poorly constrained). In short, the use of a fictitious calibration point.

    Only he dresses it up by saying that humans made humans with some BS called retrocasuality, where I guess future people created past people, thereby ensuring that the future people would exist to create the past people…

    😮

    That IS humor. He IS just being funny.

    Please.

    PLEASE!!!

  99. #99 AustinAtheist
    March 19, 2007

    That defense might work, David, if only he were funny, which he isn’t.

  100. #100 Luna_the_cat
    March 19, 2007

    Geoffrey@#62/Stanton@#63:
    Bear in mind that there are two intellectual “easy outs” — Believe Everything, and Doubt Everything. Either one of those keeps you from ever having to think too hard.

    “Doubt Everything” is the better option for a public commenter, because it gives them something more to write as well as a faux credibility. I’m guessing that Adams may or may not realise that he’s gone this route, though; it may be he’s just never thought about it that deeply.

  101. #101 Keith Douglas
    March 19, 2007

    Hm, so does the danger of lack of knowledge increase with that lack increasing? Sounds pretty homeopathic to me …

    CalGeorge: Alas, respect is probably less important than understanding.

    Colugo: IMO, journalists of X should be trained in X (too), but that’s, unfortunately, utopian.

    MYOB: To be fair, he could take a purely agnostic stand – as we should if evidence is genuinely nonexistent or equivocal. The problem is that S. Adams has no idea what that evidence seems to include.

    Stanton: Or at least a subjective idealist, like PZ’s other nemesis, D. Chopra.

    Luna_the_cat: Cf. also M. Bunge’s article from the Skeptical Inquirer a few years back: “Absolute Skepticism Equals Dogmatism”.

  102. #102 Steven
    March 19, 2007

    I have a few friends and colleagues who revered Dilbert for a long time and some of Dilbert was actually quite funny in the past. He said he doesn’t believe in ID and Creationism and also invisible dudes in the sky. Well done for him.

    Unfortunately if his “bullshit detector” tells him evolution is bullshit then he loses all his cool points.

    Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
    of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.

  103. #103 dogu4
    March 20, 2007

    Sometimes bullshit is the smell of nature’s own fertilizer…I sure hope Scott Adams figures that out, but in the mean time it serves as an excellent lesson on how people come to confuse their own celebrity and success, deserved or un-deserved, as evidence of their correctness. No doubt our president sure thinks that if he were wrong he’d just be a regular little person like me and maybe like you too, and since he’s the preznut he MUST be right..sorta like the way his theology works too, no surprise, and that too seems like it is a condition of our evolutionary path….which is why I’m happy. As for the secret..the secret is to find happiness where you are and it’s best achieved by making things better for those around us.

  104. #104 sts060
    March 20, 2007

    As an engineer, …
    – wait! before you roll your eyes –

    As an engineer, I recognize the syndrome. “I’m an engineer, trained to think rationally, therefore I can dope it out.” The “…even though I’ve never studied it past high school or worked in the field” part is what gets left out of the internal monologue. Creationism and pseudo-creationist attacks on evolutionary science seem to be fertile ground for the expression of this syndrome. And technical types who pride themselves on plain talk and common sense are especially susceptible to this (see “Car Talk”‘s Click & Clack for another example).

    I, too, believe I have a pretty good BS detector. But it’s not calibrated for arguments in fields where I am no more than an interested layman. That’s why I don’t pretend that I have brilliant Common Sense Insights into such fields, and that all those scientists are just too Blind and Dogmatic to see it.

    Adams is a guy with an engineering background, who has done lots of funny cartoons about puffed-up bloviators who fancy themselves experts on all subjects. Ironically, he’s gone and turned into one himself! Funny, but sad too.

  105. #105 Blake Stacey, OM
    March 20, 2007

    sts060:

    Adams is a guy with an engineering background, who has done lots of funny cartoons about puffed-up bloviators who fancy themselves experts on all subjects. Ironically, he’s gone and turned into one himself! Funny, but sad too.

    Indeed. I keep waiting for his denunciation of string theory. Actually, it’s probably already happened, and I was just too preoccupied to notice.

  106. #106 Will Von Wizzlepig
    March 21, 2007

    I still don’t follow the whole concern over Scott and his less-than-scientific methods and comments.

    Yes, he’s wrong. He knows it.

    He doesn’t write a blog the even pretends to be telling you what is true and what isn’t. His blog is entertainment.

    You’re misinterpreting his blog.

    I can see getting angry at people who promote creationism, or religion, but the people who read Scott’s blog and don’t understand that he could very well be wrong- they aren’t going to come read THIS blog, probably ever, because ESPN and FOX news are far too interesting for them.

    I get the distinct impression that both you and he occasionally become traffic-generating-post-trolls.

  107. #107 Stephen
    March 22, 2007

    Scott’s blog is not a peer reviewed science journal. I don’t expect him to get everything right. Or even right the first time. Or even corrected in the comments.

    But peer review isn’t perfect either. This seems to be Scott’s complaint. Sort of. Another, simpler example.

    A few years back, the Hubble Key Project (using the Hubble Space Telescope) had finished, and they announced that the Universe is 11.7 billion years old, +/- 400 million years (or something like that). Trouble is, we know of individual stars that are at least 13 billion years old.

    Now, when i read this, i expected this obvious problem to be eventually resolved, and expected it to go towards the oldest stars answer. Stellar evolution has been stable for quite a bit. Measuring stuff back to the start of the Universe is new and difficult, even for HST.

    Eventually, and it wasn’t news, the Key report was explained. A systemic mistake had been made. Now it wasn’t just made by one or two people. And peer review doesn’t add much to that either. But, eventually, the error was found, and now adays, we have (at least) four measurements of the age of the Universe, in basic agreement. Hubble Key, Super Nova survey, WMAP, and oldest stars. And, there’s lots of glue logic to make it all work.

    One of the projects i liked alot was the Super Nova stuff. It wasn’t peer review where the team submits to Nature (or some such), and some guy does review. There were two mostly independent projects, collecting data, and doing analysis. Two teams. That’s hot. So the only way it could fail totally is if the data is poor quality (it IS hard to get) or if there isn’t enough of it (it IS hard to get), or the basic framework of understanding was flawed (which, i guess it was). But, besides just getting a new number, we also got dark energy. That’s new understanding.

    I don’t think Scott has looked into it enough. Press releases aren’t quite enough.

  108. #108 mnuez
    March 22, 2007

    F’r the record, y’all are pretty ignorant about the Bible, starting with the writer of the Newsweek article. (Not that I’m saying ignorance of the Bible is equal a crime to ignorance of the basics of Evolutionary Theory.)

    Adam begat Seth who had Enosh who had Kenan who had Mehalelel etc. (yes, I know the chain by heart) but nowhere does the Bible say or imply in an way that there weren’t a multitude of other unmentioned siblings. In fact, were there no other siblings, who the hell was killed in the flood? What nine kings was Abraham involved with in battle? etc. All that the Bible is giving you is the father to son lineage of Noah and then of Abraham (and sporadically of other nations too) nowhere however is it in any implied that other sons and daughters were not born, in fact the Bible often blatantly MENTIONS “and he begat other sons and daughters too”.

    Not that any of this has anything to do with the content of your post, just a bit of info on how the Bible was quite misquoted by the Newsweek author and then sorta bought-into by the commenters (at least those early on whom I read).

    mnuez

  109. #109 Jon
    March 24, 2007

    As the physicist Richard Feynman once said, the philosopher who, contemplating the reality of the juicy steak in front of him, *really* believed that it was a mere illusion, would’ve long since starved.

    I think Mr. Adams takes too readily to the trite (and rather stupid) view that empiricism is boring, but these kinds of philosophical meanderings (no matter how absurd and irrelevant) are not. And, being a non-scientist/non-mathematician, I don’t put this past him necessarily. It’s just a shame, is all, that this idea gets perpetuated ad infinitum.

    His posts on science reduce, in my mind, to one phrase: “Science is too nerdy”. I think someone should remind him that the real world isn’t like an 80s high school sitcom.

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